Our School has a sister school relationship with a school located in the northeastern part of South Africa. Our schools have hosted cultural exchange trips with each other since 2006. The school is called Gondolikehethwa Christian School (GCS) and it is in town of Dzanani (located half way between Louis Trichardt and Thohoyandou). I had the privilege of chaperoning the trip this year. We took 6 students, 4 from Grade 11 and 2 from Grade 12. The trip involved living in homestays, teaching students, making friendships and experiencing life in South Africa. As a side mission, we took our technology coordinator to install Wi-Fi access points to permit teachers Internet access in their classrooms.
You cannot go on a trip like this and not come home changed. My respect and admiration for the South African people has increased immensely. We are about 24 years post Apartheid and it is amazing to see the progress and great strides already made in their lives. Young people are graduating from Universities and now entering the work force. School aged students are very focused on learning, excelling in their test scores, after school tutoring, and making it to post secondary education to attain a career.
Progress in the condition of homes and standard of living is increasing. Water and food are in good supply; on the other hand, jobs for unskilled labour are not in great abundance. There is still a level of poverty that is apparent as you walk and live in the community.
Living with homestays for 12 days allowed us a window into the daily life of South Africa. Differences we had to become accustomed to included: different housing structures, different foods cooked for us, different creatures greeting you in your room, different customs and routines. Homes there have walls around the properties, gates to close and lock for the night. I was constantly aware of the threat of someone breaking into the homes to steal things. I have a greater appreciation for our homes and neighbourhoods that do not face threats like this on a daily basis.
During my stay there, the significance of us being at Gondolikhethwa Christian School became more lucid. It is important for the community to see GCS reaching out past South Africa to welcome and promote relationships in Canada. Every two years, 8-10 Whites appear in an all black community. The whole community knows that we are from Canada and that we are staying at GCS. We become the focus of attention that everyone wants to touch us, talk to us, and learn about us. Our visiting elevates GCS in their community as a school that is making a difference and is extending its borders.
Next spring we will welcome students and teachers from GCS into our community and give them a great cultural learning experience.